Mentor Relationships and Harper High

After recently listening to the This American Life episode “Harper High School”, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of mentor relationships in learning. Part two of the TAL episode (which I highly recommend listening to if you want to get an idea of what growing up amidst gang violence in the south side of Chicago is like) portrays the relationship between Devonte and Crystal. Devonte is a Harper High student who is trying to deal with enormous guilt and trauma after years of witnessing violence and after having accidentally shot his brother. Crystal is a social worker who is trying to offer Devonte love and guidance. In the TAL episode, it quickly becomes clear that their relationship is the one thing that lets Devonte come out of his shell. 

Most often, we, as technologists/educators/designers are powerless to surmount the social and economic problems that force kids to live in such damaging environments. But I think that we can still create meaningful learning spaces. And here, our focus matters. A lot. The TAL story is a reminder that as designers of educational experiences, before considering technology, we first have to design environments that fosters trust, care, relationships and guidance. This week’s readings also pointed to this. 

The Computer Clubhouses seek to create environments that foster respect, trust, and “emerging communities”. The model envisions adults working side by side with kids, offering them support, inspiration and guidance. And Geetha  Narayanan points out that in education, the same design principles that guide good product design- efficiency, effectiveness, are exactly wrong. Instead, designers of educational experiences should focus on slowness. Slowness is crucial to building trusting relationships. And I think that those relationships are at the core of what allows a learner to open up, to tinker and explore fearlessly. 

I really recommend listening to the TAL episode. You can find both parts here:

Part 1: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/487/harper-high-school-part-one
Part 2: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/488/harper-high-school-part-two

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